College Choir on Pitch
The Oberlin College Choir graced a decent-sized audience with beautiful music last Thursday night in Finney Chapel. The choir sang a program of rigorous music.
“There was no easy listening in the repertoire, nothing that doesn’t require the performers’ mental involvement,” choir Director Gabriela Hristova explained. She said that in many situations, a choir concert alternates between difficult pieces and simpler ones to allow for pacing, but this was not one of those situations.
The repertoire included sacred and secular works. The standout was Benjamin Britten’s “Rejoice in the Lamb” from the Festival Cantata, a musical setting of a text by the poet Christopher Smart. The piece was successfully conveyed as poignant, fascinating and even humorous by the choir and its expressive soloists, Conservatory sophomore Joseph Turro, double-degree first-year Shannon Rieke and Conservatory first-years Molly Netter and Joseph Lattanzi.
“For I will consider my cat Jeoffry. / For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him,” sang Netter.
Conservatory sophomore Nicole Simental provided organ accompaniment for this and several other pieces.
Another highlight was Gustav Holst’s choral arrangement of the Welsh tune “My Sweetheart’s Like Venus,” a short piece that sounded deceptively simple, but had a very powerful effect on the audience because of the Choir’s precise articulation and evident focus on the conductor.
The performance had a professional air. Hristova only stopped once to talk in between pieces because she did not want to interrupt the flow of the program. She gave a half-hour pre-concert talk, during which she explored the histories and the meanings behind the texts of the repertoire, whose sources ranged from poems and plays to scripture, informing the audience of particular musical moments to focus on when listening to the concert. In addition, the programs included extensive notes about the pieces and transcriptions of the texts.
“It won’t ruin your experience like hearing the plot of a movie before you watch it would,” said Hristova. “It’s just the opposite with music — you need to be in touch.”
Hristova said that her semester in Oberlin has been a positive and a challenging experience. Hristova, the Conservatory’s Visiting Director of Ensembles and Choral Activities, led the choir while Dr. Hugh Floyd was on sabbatical this spring semester. It took time for her and the students to become comfortable with one another so that they could begin “making beautiful music.” She believes that the repertoire she chose for the choir demanded that the students engage in the music on a deep spiritual and intellectual level.
“I think they’ve grown up this semester, very much,” she said.
Thursday night’s concert demonstrated that the students were able to achieve the level of quality required for serious choral music.